With a modern universe of porn forever just a few keystrokes away, it may be difficult to wrap your head around the idea of a moment in time when smut was considered daring and novel, and when suburban couples flooded into the local bijou to watch average-looking people have sex on camera. And in the boldly liberated but still quaintly naïve early ’70s, Linda Lovelace was the perfect ambassador for skin flicks, a grinning, almost wholesome, girl-next-door who was also a famously talented fellatio artist.
Amanda Seyfried slips into the infamous halter tops of the first mainstream porn star, a role once intended for the notorious walking disaster Lindsay Lohan, a casting that would have been great for publicity but creatively ruinous.
This not to say that Lovelace is high art, but it’s a passable biopic with a mildly ambitious narrative bent, one that would have surely been flattened by the clumsy antics of “La Lohan.” As it is, this origin story of the star of surprise box office smash of 1973, is compulsively watchable, even while being coated in a thick layer of me-decade sleaze.
The fabulous Lovelace was born Linda Boreman, a pretty young thing “discovered” while go-go dancing at a Florida roller rink. Her sketchy new husband is a low-rent Svengali named Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) who maneuvers his new bride into nude modeling and ultimately into starring in a slightly more respectable brand of flesh flick called Deep Throat, which incredibly became a national sensation and the subject of endless editorials, public debates and Johnny Carson punch lines.
Linda’s overnight stardom is first presented as a sort of glittery rocket ride of sex, drugs and shag carpeting. The movie then abruptly reverses course, and presents the same sequences over again from the perspective of an older, sober and reformed Linda, who reveals the tawdry truth of addiction, persistent abuse, forced prostitution and financial exploitation. This dual nature is an interesting attempt to mix up the otherwise formulaic show biz story tropes, though the revelation that the porn business is loaded with scumbags is hardly shocking.
Seyfried is maybe too predictably pretty to embody Lovelace’s weirdly earthy sensuality, but she’s otherwise polished and game. Echoing Eric Robert’s in Star 80, the always intriguing Sarsgaard is impressively intense as the despicably needy and venial Chuck, but the character is so loathsome it’s hard to enjoy his creepy performance. Also saddled with an unsympathetic role is Sharon Stone as Linda’s arch catholic mother, who urges her daughter to obey the husband that is literally pimping her out to potential movie investors.
At least Adam Brody has fun, playing Lovelace’s mustachioed co-star Harry Reems as loveable goofball. Hank Azaria is also amusing as plumy director Gerald Damiano, though it’s hard not to hear a bit Moe the Bartender creeping into his performance. James Franco is terribly miscast as Hugh Hefner, a totally wasted opportunity.
The amazing arc from obscurity to erotic icon, to eventual feminist stalwart is certainly a provocative tale, but the merely functional Lovelace never really dares to probe deep enough to tell it.
Lovelace is in theaters now, is rated R and has a running time of 92 minutes. Watch the trailer here.